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A Guide to Finances during the pandemic

As redundancies spread and businesses shut down, many of us face sudden and severe financial challenges. While the pain is widespread, so too are the relief efforts. This guide aims to cut through the confusion and help you protect your finances in these uncertain times.

Jump to:-
Unemployment benefits
Sick Pay
Pension
Budgeting
Food Banks
Redundancy Pay
Government assistance
Utilities

Unemployment Benefits

If you are already unemployed: people receiving benefits do not have to attend jobcentre appointments for three months, starting from Thursday 19 March 2020. People will continue to receive their benefits as normal, but all requirements to attend the jobcentre in person are suspended.

If you have just become unemployed: You will be able to apply for a New Job Seeker’s Allowance if you meet the following criteria:

  • you’re on a low income or out of work
  • you’re 18 or over
  • you’re under State Pension age (or your partner is)
  • you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
  • you live in the UK

This page provides information about coronavirus and claiming benefits. It will continue to be updated. Please check the page regularly for updates on the arrangements the Department for Work and Pensions is making to support those who are affected by coronavirus.

Sick Pay

You can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. To claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), tell your employer by their deadline (or within 7 days if they do not have one).

If you are staying at home because of COVID-19 you can now claim SSP. This includes individuals who are caring for people in the same household and therefore have been advised to do a household quarantine. If you have COVID-19 or are advised to stay at home, you can get an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online, rather than visiting a doctor.

Pension

Since the coronavirus outbreak, stock markets have fallen considerably and are likely to remain volatile for a while. You may therefore be wondering if you should bring forward a decision to do something with your pension.

If you’re currently paying into a workplace pension and have several years before you’re planning to draw on your pension, then you’re probably going to be ok. In time, it’s likely markets will recover, and it might even be a good time to consider increasing your pension contributions if you can.

If you’re close to or considering retirement, many pension schemes will have seen their funds lifestyled. This means your pension will have been moved into predominantly less risky funds such as cash, gilts or bonds. That doesn’t mean your pension won’t have taken a hit, but it should be considerably less than if you had remained invested in shares. However not all pension schemes offer this automatic lifestyling so you may want to check what type of funds your pension is invested in.

If your pension is still invested mostly in shares, don’t panic. In time, markets are likely to recover.  Depending on when you are planning to retire, you may have to consider taking a lower income or retiring later.

You can claim your pension funds at any time if it is with an external company but we would not recommend this unless it is an emergency.

Budgeting

If you’re worried about cashflow have a look at what you’re spending and what income you have coming in. You may need to cut back on as much as possible to get you through the next few weeks. It’s not going to be fun, but you’ll be pleased you did once it’s all over. There are some handy budget calculators online that can help you record all of your outgoings so that you are prepared.

Don’t be afraid to contact companies that you owe money to in these circumstances as more often than not they will be very understanding and put things on hold that can wait, including extra charges and missed payment fees. Most energy and mortgage companies are allowing a short break as well as landlords allowing discounted rent payments. The worst thing you can do is bury your head and ignore due payments.

Food Banks

If you need a food bank’s help because you have no money for food, please contact your local food bank. You can find their contact details by putting your postcode into this food bank finder map. The latest government advice explains food banks can legally continue operating and buildings that host food banks can continue to open for those sessions, provided we follow social distancing rules, because your work qualifies you as key workers ‘caring for the vulnerable’.

Redundancy Pay

If you have been made redundant, you’ll get statutory redundancy pay as long as you have been employed by your employer for 2 years continuously.

Employees get:

  • 1.5 weeks’ pay for each full year of employment after their 41st birthday
  • a week’s pay for each full year of employment after their 22nd birthday
  • half a week’s pay for each full year of employment up to their 22nd birthday

Length of service is capped at 20 years and weekly pay is capped at £525. The maximum amount of statutory redundancy pay is £15,750. Redundancy pay is not taxable so you will get the full amount. You can use the gov.co.uk redundancy calculator to work out what you will receive in your final payslip.

In the case of your company making you redundant because they have become insolvent (can’t afford it) then you must contact the Insolvency Service.

Government assistance

For the first time in British history, the Government announced it would step in and pay people’s wages in a bid to protect people’s jobs amid the coronavirus fallout. It will pay 80% of salary for staff who are kept on by their employer, covering wages of up to £2,500 a month. The wages cover, which relates to gross pay, will be backdated to the start of March and last for three months.

You do not need to take any action in this instance, your company will sort a financial arrangement out and payroll will pay you as usual as long as you have been kept on and continue to work the hours you have been given.

Utilities

If you’re going to have trouble paying your gas or electricity bill, dig out a recent copy of your bill for details of the number to call to talk to your provider. They will be able to tell you about ways you can make affordable repayments and they should also check if you’re on the best tariff for your needs. It’s also possible to switch providers even if you’re in arrears to get a better tariff.

If you have a prepayment meter, you will receive help if you’re not able to top it up. This will include credit being sent through the post, money being automatically added to your meter and companies sending people out on your behalf to top your meter up. If you’re struggling to pay your bill, you will receive support and no meter disconnections will take place.

Water companies in England and Wales have put extra support in place if you’re worried about paying your water bill because you’ve lost your job or had your income cut because of coronavirus.

Support will depend on your circumstances and includes:

  • payment breaks or payment holidays
  • special schemes, such as social tariffs
  • adjusting your payment plan to cope with a drop in household finances
  • offering advice on benefits and managing debts, particularly if you have not been in financial difficulties before
  • stopping new court applications on unpaid bills during the current restrictions and stopping any enforcement action.


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